Chocolate is one of the greatest substances on earth. In addition to being sublimely delicious, it bathes your brain in feel-good chemicals. I know none of us needs more reasons to sink our teeth into something decadent, especially during stressful times, but I can’t resist sharing these findings with you.
Phenylethylamine may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of chocolate, but it’s a heady chemical. It fools your brain into thinking you’re in love, usually a euphoric feeling. When dealing with the loss of a life partner, more phenylethylamine is a good thing as it elevates your mood. What could be better than that? There’s absolutely no harm in eating an an ounce or two of good, dark chocolate daily.
Anandamide is another chemical in cocoa aptly named after the Sanskrit word for bliss: ananda. It produces an effect that’s almost identical to the THC in marijuana. The brain has receptor sites for this chemical, just as it does for the feel-good endorphins you get from exercise. When a molecule of anandamide hitches on to its receptor site you get a jolt of joy. If this makes you nervous about eating chocolate, don’t be. You’d have to eat 25 pounds of chocolate to equal the high from one joint.
Dark chocolate has the highest ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) units of all fruits and vegetables. Why care about ORACs? These antioxidants neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are the by-products of respiration and digestion, and they wreak havoc on our system. We can’t stop them from occurring, but we can ingest foods that prevent them from causing harm. Dark chocolate has twice as many polyphenol antioxidants, the substance found in red wine that is touted for all its health benefits.
Chocolate does contain small amounts of caffeine, 1.5 ounces of the dark stuff has 27 mg. while a 6 ounce cup of coffee has 125 mg, but this caffeine-like compound in chocolate, theobromine, does not stimulate the central nervous system the way caffeine in coffee (or the caffeine-like compound in tea: theophylline) does.
Nitric oxide is another little miracle in your chocolate, as it may help prevent blood clots and high blood pressure. Carl Keen, chair of the nutrition department at University of California-Davis, found that a drink containing 25 grams of dark chocolate had the same blood-thinning effects on platelets as an 81 mg. aspirin.
As a fermented food, chocolate also contains those prized probiotics now associated with great gut health, lower anxiety levels, and better moods.
While chocolate is high in fat (a little over an ounce will have 11 grams of fat, 7 of which are saturated), the 4 grams of unsaturated fat are oleic acid, the same fatty acid that makes olive oil so healthy. Oleic acid raises your HDLs and lowers your LDLs. Of the saturated fat, more than half is stearic acid. It is converted into oleic acid by the liver. Palmitic acid is the stuff found in beef, pork and dairy. Twenty five percent of the fatty acids in chocolate are palmitic, but researches believe the high levels of good fats counteract its effects.
Chocolate has strong anti-inflammatory properties. The process of inflammation seems to involve increased levels of leukotriene in the body. A study done in Germany showed that the epicatechin in chocolate helps decrease levels of leukotriene. So chocolate may help reduce inflammation by reducing leukotriene.
Sandrine Thuret, a neuroscientist, recently talked about chocolate’s ability to foster growth of new neural cells in the brain. These would help memory and ease depression. (Access her Ted talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/sandrine_thuret_you_can_grow_new_brain_cells_here_s_how?language=en)
The magnesium in chocolate calms your nervous system, builds bones, regulates blood pressure, and helps metabolize carbohydrates.
Here’s another interesting study from 2014: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/27/us/a-bite-to-remember-chocolate-is-shown-to-aid-memory.html?_r=0
Other research from February 11th, 2010 on chocolate decreasing the risk of a stroke:
Chocolate Chips Away at Stroke Risk
Flavonoids in Chocolate May Lower Risk of Having or Dying From Stroke
By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
Eating a little bit of chocolate each week may not only lower the risk of having a stroke, it may also decrease the odds of dying from one.
A new review of recent research on chocolate and stroke risk found at least two large studies are suggestive of the health benefits of chocolate in lowering the risk of stroke. The results will be presented in April at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Toronto.
The first study found 44,489 people who ate one serving of chocolate per week were 22% less likely to have a stroke than people who didn’t eat chocolate.
The second study showed that 1,169 people who ate 50 grams of chocolate once a week were 46% less likely to die after a stroke compared to people who didn’t.
A third study included in the review found no association between chocolate consumption and risk of death from stroke.
Researchers say chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is rich in antioxidants called flavonoids, which have been shown to have a number of health benefits.
“More research is needed to determine whether chocolate truly lowers stroke risk, or whether healthier people are simply more likely to eat chocolate than others,” researcher Sarah Sahib, BScCA, of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, says in a news release.
Here’s a 2019 study on how people who eat dark chocolate are less likely to be depressed: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/08/190802145458.htm
I highly recommend Rowan Jacobsen’s book: CHOCOLATE UNWRAPPED: The Surprising Health Benefits Of America’s Favorite Passion.
(If you want more information on high cacao content chocolate bars from around the globe please check out: http://www.chocolateratings.wordpress.com.)
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang